Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve

Updated: 6/25//2016

Note: On January 8, 2016 American Express sent out a notice to a large number of Bluebird & Serve cardholders informing them that loading capabilities on their accounts had been terminated. For more information, see: Amex kills Bluebird and Serve for manufactured spend

Note: As of 10/13/15 the Target REDcard (REDbird) can only be loaded with cash in-store at Target. Gift cards and/or debit cards no longer work to load REDcard so it is no longer useful for increasing spend and thus has been removed from this guide.

Note 5/10/2016: Rite Aid no longer allows debit cards to be used for reloading prepaid cards.

Bluebird and Serve…  These are prepaid reloadable American Express cards intended to be viable fee-free checking account alternatives.  Even better, they are both good choices for those who primarily want to earn miles and points.  The problem is… each person can have only one.  So, which is best?

UPDATE 6/25/2016: At some point recently Amex started allowing people to sign up for multiple cards. It is now possible for one person to signup for Bluebird, Serve, and REDbird (the Target Prepaid REDcard).

The answer to “which card is best?” depends upon your personal situation.  No single card is better than all others for everyone.  However, depending upon your situation, there is almost certainly a best card for you.  In this guide, I’ll give you the information you need to decide which card is best for you.


amex bluebird serve guide

 

Overview

Both Bluebird and Serve run on the same technology platform and they therefore have a lot in common.  They are both prepaid reloadable American Express cards.  This means that, unlike credit cards, you need to load money to these cards before you can use them (although, another option is to setup linked backup funding sources).  Once money is loaded, these cards can be used like American Express credit cards to make purchases, or can be used at ATMs for cash withdrawals, or can be used like a bank account to pay bills.

Bluebird

Bluebird was formed from a collaboration between American Express and Walmart. Even though Serve predated Bluebird, Bluebird was the first prepaid card to be a realistic fee-free checking account alternative.  And, at the time of this writing, Bluebird continues to be the only Amex prepaid product that offers a checkbook for writing checks yourself.  One of my earliest posts about Bluebird can be found here: Bluebird takes flight and changes the game.

Serve

Serve has been around quite a while and it has changed a lot over time, mostly for the better. At one point American Express discontinued the singular version of Serve and launched four new versions. While each version shares common features, they are all unique and different in their own ways. In this guide I will talk about Serve as a singular product (highlighting features that are common across all versions), however you can see all of the differences between each type in the Complete guide to the many flavors of Serve. Which is best?

One of the features that makes all versions of Serve stand out above Bluebird and REDbird is that they can be loaded online via credit card, up to $1000 per month. (The discontinued Softcard version of Serve allows $1,500 per month.) Unfortunately, as of April 16th 2015, they only accept Amex credit cards for those loads.  Amex cards issued by American Express do not earn rewards when used this way, but Amex cards issued by other banks do earn rewards. To find the best Amex cards to use for this purpose, please see: Best options for Serve online loads.

Which is best for you?

Please read through the comparison tables below to identify the differences between cards that matter the most to you.  For simplicity, though, here are my quick recommendations.

  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities, regardless of the complexities involved, then get Serve.
  • If you find yourself often in or near Walmart, Rite Aid, Dollar General, or Family Dollar, regardless of whether you actually shop at those locations, get Serve.
  • If you want to use Vanilla brand Visa gift cards to reload your prepaid card in-store, get Serve.
  • If you frequently shop at Walmart, and you’re interested in occasional Walmart discounts, get Bluebird.
  • If you need the ability to write your own checks, get Bluebird.

Comparison Tables

The following tables show both cards side by side.  Notable advantages are marked with green backgrounds.  Notable negatives are marked with red backgrounds.

How to get the card

Bluebird

Serve

Order online

Y

Y

Buy temp card in-store

Y

Wal-mart

Y

Various Stores

Temp card fee

$5

$0 to $5

Monthly fee

$0

Varies per flavor.

How to reload

Bluebird

Serve

Direct deposit

Y

Y

Deposit check (with smart phone app)

Y

Y

Online debit (not gift cards)

Y
Up to $1K / month

Y
Up to $1K / month

Online credit

N

Y
Up to $1K / month

Amex cards only.

In-store kiosk

Y
Wal-mart

Y
Wal-mart

In-store debit (including gift cards with PINs)

Y
Wal-mart

Y
Walmart, Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, Dollar General

In-store debit w/ Vanilla Visa gift card

N

Y

Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, and Dollar General

In-store credit

N

N

Via reload cards

Y
Vanilla Reload

Y
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt

In-store + reload card limits

$5000 per month

$5000 per month

If you’re reading this page, you probably want to find the card that is best for earning credit card rewards.  There are several ways this can happen:

  • Online debit loads: Use a rewards earning debit card or a debit card that is reloadable with a credit card.  Increasingly, both options are difficult or impossible to find, so this option is of very limited use to most people.  You cannot use gift cards as debit cards for online loads.
  • Online credit loads (Serve only): This is a great way to earn rewards easily and automatically, but Serve is now limited to Amex credit card loads only.  Please see: Best options for Serve online loads.
  • In-store debit: Unless you are lucky enough to have a debit card that earns rewards, the trick here is to use your rewards credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with PINs, and use those as debit cards to reload your prepaid card.  See: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards and Beginner’s guide to buying & liquidating Visa & Mastercard gift cards
  • Reload cards: Vanilla Reload cards and Greendot MoneyPaks are cards that can be bought at various stores, and then money from those cards can be transferred to prepaid reloadable cards online or, increasingly common, at the register.  It is becoming increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to find stores that allow reload cards to be purchased with a credit card.
Scheduled Loads

American Express used to make it very easy to schedule loads from various funding sources, however they have now seemingly removed that option from their website. Fortunately there is still a way to do this. To schedule a load, simply log-in to your Bluebird or Serve account and click the appropriate link below.

Note: This will only work if you already have a funding source linked to the account. Make sure to link one before trying or you will simply be redirected to the settings page.

How to save money with each card

Bluebird

Serve

Wal-mart promos

Y

N

Small biz Saturday

Y

Y

Amex Offers

Y

Y

As you can see above, both of these cards provide opportunity for saving money. Wal-mart promos have been few and far between lately, so the greatest value comes from Amex Offers on these cards. Note that both cards are also eligible for Small Business Saturday, but in 2015 that promotion didn’t offer any credits like in past years.

How to use card funds

Bluebird

Serve

Foreign exchange fee?

N

Y
2.7%

Fee free ATM

Y
Money Pass

Y
Money Pass

Other ATMs

$2.50

$2.50

Free online bill pay

Y

Y

Write your own checks

Y

N

Withdraw to linked bank account

Y

Y

Send money to others

Y

Y

Both Bluebird & Serve offer easy access to your money once its loaded.  In fact, with both cards, you can simply transfer the money to your bank account or even use the online bill pay function to send a check to yourself, for free.  A couple of notable differences though are as follows:

  • All versions of Serve charge foreign exchange fees so they’re poor choices for using outside of the United States.
  • Bluebird offers checkbooks with which you can write your own checks.

For additional information about fees and limits please see: Bluebird & Serve. A Comparison Chart of Amex Prepaid Debit Alternatives.

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